Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Clash of Californications

Little did Samuel Huntington know, when he published a book called Who we are: The Challenges to America’s National Identity in 2004, that later that year, a young black man called Barack Obama would dazzle the nation at the Democratic National Convention by defining himself as the ultimate example of the American Dream. Obama’s interpretation of Americans couldn’t have been more different from the renowned Huntington — while the latter believed that immigration was taking America away from its core values which were build on a decidedly Anglo-Protestant ethic, the former believed that America is truly the land of possibilities where the son of an immigrant could rise to become a senator, now President.

Ironically, those who vehemently disagree with Huntington — as I’m sure Barack “Barry” Obama would — use the very strength of America’s social and political institutions as the reason for people coming to America in the first place. America is not the world’s leader because it is a country of white people, they say, but because it believes in freedom and liberty, and that all men are created equal.

To be fair to Huntington, and as the Economist put it, this is a “rational expression of a rational fear”. Watchers of American politics haven’t yet wrapped their head around the fact that a black president will mean that America will no longer be perceived as a white nation — or have they? The concern is not simply about black, Asians or Hispanics cracking glass ceilings; it is about the influx of communities who are slow to assimilate with American culture on the whole. The US census bureau reports that by 2042, what are minority groups today will form the majority of America’s population. The Hispanic population, today at around 43 million, is expected to rise to 133 million by 2050.

The question then becomes about the essence of multi-culturalism. Do you really need to abandon your original culture to become American? And conversely, is America ‘diluted’ if the majority if not white? Obama’s own story disproves these concerns. As a young man in the 1960s he initially went by the name Barry Obama, which he later abandoned for his real name, Barack. Owning up to his roots allowed him to appreciate and serve America better, and further the American Dream.

America was indeed based on the Protestant work ethic, which has become a part and parcel of what America is — capitalism is as instrumental in assimilating immigrants as government or politics! The focus, however, often lingers on culture — Huntington wrote at length about Hispanics being far too slow to assimilate into American culture, and in turn creating a dual system of dual language in the country: English and Spanish. But the Pew Hispanic Centre studies have found that while only 4 per cent of first-generation Hispanics can speak English as their first language, by the third generation the number rises to a phenomenal 78 per cent.

These fears of Americana getting lost, or dissolving, have surfaced before. But the world would not admire “Americana” so, if the White House referred to the colour of one’s skin and not the colour of the walls.



egg style said...

Fair enuff. Interesting that you should touch upon assimilation, something that deserves closer academic study than ever before. Do the Blackeyed Peas sound more “American” than U2? Do the Blackeyed Peas look more “American” than U2? Does “?” have more resonance than “Pride” or viceversa? And does assimilation display decreasing returns to scale in a globalised era that could potentially turn diversity into a competitive edge?

As for liberty & equality, the question is not of avowals, inscriptions, statues or engravements to these, but a Common Sense understanding of these values, an understanding that’s no different in elementary thought (nay, testimonial application) from one gained at the Paine of casting off imperial rule.

So long as education allows the authority of ideas to overrun the idea of authority, it may be safe to suppose that a Confluence of Civilisations will overcome a Clash of Civilisations. It is paternal rather than patriarchal, most visibly by way of tools deployed. It is open rather than closed. Above all, it is simply a better idea for what it means to the planet’s future.

It is also an idea promoted by Secular India, and if this puts the country in competition (for diversity maximisation) with the US under renewed leadership, then well(to the sound of rhythmic clapping)… ... ... ... so be it.

rossoneri said...

Just because they do not learn english, are hispanics slow to assimilate into american culture? they should be allowed to continue with english as their first language and this diversity should be celebrated...
America is considered the land of opportunity and it is this economic dream that defines it.

Anonymous said...

my fave part of the inaugural was the patchwork reference, the part that talks of an era of peace. pg 2 pg, the best coverage was TOI's as always. but they missed a trick, the SMS going round "read em lips, no more bush"
-- will.i.am celebrating

mahima said...

ha ha. yeah this point -- who is american -- was well answered by the celebration.. and obama himself... fabulous!

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